What’s really happening is that California lawmakers have 48 hours to pass such a bill or the policy shit is going to hit the direct democracy fan. Because if lawmakers in the California Senate and House don’t pass this bill Thursday morning, and if California governor Jerry Brown doesn’t sign this bill into law Thursday afternoon, a stronger version of it will be on the state ballot in November. Then the 17 million or so people who actually vote in California would decide for themselves whether they should have the right to force companies to stop selling their data out the back door. Polls predict they would vote yes, despite the claims of tech companies that passage of the law would lead to businesses fleeing California. And laws passed via the ballot initiative process, rather than the legislative process, are almost impossible to change, so California would likely have this one on its books for a very long time.
This, more than, say, an urgent need to address the data scandals that have dominated the tech industry so far this year, is why lawmakers are scrambling to get a bill passed. (A press secretary for Senator Bob Hertzberg, a sponsor of the bill, says that it’s happening at the last minute because it was a “long and tortured negotiating process” to come up with “an agreement that everybody 70% agrees with.”) It’s an absurd scenario out of Armando Iannucci, motivated more by arbitrary deadlines and the arcane mechanics of the legislative process than by a sudden passionate response to the kind of careless data practices that facilitated a foreign power’s interference in a presidential election.
How did we get here? It mostly has to do with one guy with a lot of money deciding he was willing to drop a few million dollars to make life harder for data brokers.
“I want to be able to go to Amazon and find out who they sold my information to,” Alastair MacTaggart told me earlier this year.
MacTaggart, a real estate developer in the San Francisco Bay Area, has spent $3 million to create and fund a campaign for the California Consumer Privacy Act, a law that would force companies to tell people what personal data they’re selling and stop if asked. The work of creating the ballot initiative started over two years ago. Over the last year, more than 600,000 Californians signed a petition in support of it—thanks to $1 million spent with signature-collection firms—and so MacTaggart now has the ability to put it on the ballot in November.